How to teach English to Italian students
Much of the older generation in Italy does not speak English. They were taught English in school, but have never really used it and so it is long forgotten. They did not see the value or need for its use.
Few travelled abroad, having lived and worked in Italy their whole lives. There was good food and weather; a thriving industry with quality exports, fashion and cinema. They had everything they needed and good jobs. So they had no desire and no need to leave.
But times have changed. The younger generations see the value in knowing English, as they seek out lessons and English courses. Big cities with large companies who have multinational clients, are hiring English teachers to teach their employees to improve their level of English.
There are increased levels of Italians travelling abroad, to find better opportunities in the job market. There is an enhanced desire to learn about other countries and cultures. They are seeing the value in improving their home country with more worldwide understanding.
A great time to teach English in Italy
With this increased desire and need for English, there is a high demand for English teachers of high quality in both public and private language schools, as well as in businesses.
If you are eager to get a teaching job while enjoying the experience of living in Italy; you might find it helpful to know the difficulties that Italians face when learning English in order to create the most effective English lessons for Italian speakers.
Similarities and difficulties
Italian and English share some similarities, such as the Roman alphabet, comparable grammatical structures and similar-sounding vocabulary, so this gives the Italian student some advantage when learning English.
However, Italian students still have difficulties with the pronunciation and spelling of English. There are some specific words and grammar elements that tend to cause trouble.
Pronunciation can be problematic for Italian speakers for many reasons. The following examples are some of the most common areas where Italians have trouble with pronunciation and learning the phonetics of English.
TH sound – This is an especially difficult sound for Italians to produce. It has no place in their language, so there is no natural ability for Italian speakers to make the sound. It feels to them like they are speaking with a lisp.
Students might make a “d” sound in place of the “th” for some words so that “the” is pronounced “duh.” Other words like “think” will turn into “tink” or perhaps even “fink,” to try and get around the awkwardness of trying to make the correct “th” sound.
Consonant H – The letter “h” is not pronounced in Italian, so much confusion will arise from this little letter. There may be misunderstandings between words like “hungry” and “angry” and h’s will be thrown in where there shouldn’t be. They may even over-pronounce it to compensate.
Short vowels – Italian students tend to lengthen short vowels, like in the word “full”, which they pronounce as “fool.”
Over pronounce “ed” – Italian speakers pronounce every letter and syllable in their language, so have some trouble with English words ending in “ed.” They will over-pronounce the “e”, so a word like “happened” becomes “happen-ed.”
Adding extra vowels at the end of a word – The majority of Italian words end with a vowel. So Italian students may show a tendency to add an extra “e” or “a” to the end of some English words, as this sounds more complete to them. “Glass” becomes “glass-e” or “steak” might become “steak-a” when used in a sentence.
Letter “i” – Italian students will often pronounce the letter “i” as a long “e” sound, since this is how they pronounce it in Italian. So the word “hit” is pronounced as “heet.”
These are just some of the main problems with pronunciation. They can all be overcome through lots of repetition with speaking and listening exercises. Reassure your students that it will take time and practice.
Italian schools focus on grammar more than English schools. English grammar is less complex, but there are still several areas of grammar that give Italians trouble.
Prepositions – Italian students often mix up their prepositions in English, due to the differences between their use and translation between English and Italian. This leads to mistakes like, “He is married withher”, instead of “He is married toher.”
Unfortunately, this can only be overcome with time and lots of practice, but is an area that needs attention.
Articles – Italian uses definite articles more than English does. This leads to mistakes like overusing “the” and saying things like, “I like the golf” or “the my shoe.” They may also leave out “it” and say something like “is cold” or pluralize mass nouns, like “luggage,” since in Italian they are count nouns.
Once again, it is just something they have to practice and repeat to get right.
Italian spelling is sound-based, so for them the spelling of a word will be similar to how it sounds. Leaning English spelling may be difficult for them due to the odd combination of letters that do not sound how they are written.
Even many native English speakers struggle with spelling into adulthood, so reassure your students that you know many words are difficult. Correct English spelling comes with lots of practice and experience with reading and writing.
False friends – These are words that sound similar in both languages and can cause some confusion. One example is using the word “actual” to mean “present” as this is what the Italian word “attuale” means.
Word mix-ups– The words “make” and “do” will often be mixed up and interchanged by Italian students in English because they both are used by only one word in Italian.
The same goes for the English words “tell” and “say” which are covered by the same single word in Italian.
They also struggle to understand the difference between “fun” and “funny” and will mix them up.
Lots of repetitive exercises on the specific words that cause problems will help your students to remember.
Italianisms and Phrases
There are some phrases in Italian which, when translated into English, are not necessarily wrong. But they do not sound right as they are simply just not used by native English speakers.
Italians will say the phrase “buon lavoro” to wish someone a good day at work. Literally translated this means “good work” which is a phrase you will not hear from native English speakers.
Another common phrase used in Italian is “hai ragione”, which is used as an agreement, as if to say “you’re right” or “that makes sense.” But Italians will directly translate and say “you have reason” when agreeing with something they heard.
You can put together some specific English conversation exercises to help your students practice the correct phrases in English.
Listening and speaking exercises are what will really help Italian students practice and remember and begin to think in English. You need to lead your students away from direct translations and practice full phrases and sentences in speech. This is more effective than learning individual words.
If you want to be an English teacher in Italy, most language and public schools require their English teachers to hold a TEFL certificate and degree level education. The demand for English teaching jobs in Italy is high, so with the right tools and certification, there are some great opportunities to teach there.
We have an excellent TEFL course available. And there are other options with obtaining our TEFL certificate, such as teaching on a homestay English course. You can teach Italian students and others who travel to the UK on these English language homestay programs; where students stay with a host family in England, and learn English in groups at our language school or with the homestay teacher.
Whatever your language teaching need or plan, we can help you get there.
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